Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis emerged from the 1988 Democratic National Convention with a huge 17-point advantage over Bush. That lead, however, evaporated quickly once Bush went all “law-and-order” on Dukakis. The centerpiece of his wildly successful effort to paint his opponent as “soft on crime” was the infamous Willie Horton ad that flooded the airwaves for more than two months up to election day.
Horton was a convict from Massachusetts (where Dukakis was governor) serving time for murder. While out of prison on a temporary furlough, he committed robbery, rape, and assault. The Bush campaign effectively exploited Horton to stoke fear and racial anxiety among white voters.
While the situation is quite different in 2020, the Trump campaign’s goal in invoking law-and-order is the same as that in 1988. However, the circumstances today are more complex:
- The chaos, violence and dystopia are all happening on Trump’s watch. He is the responsible party. He is, after all, the incumbent.
- Trump’s own lawlessness renders his law-and-order mantra a sick joke.
- Trump’s June assault on peaceful protestors in Washington, DC in order to clear them from Lafayette Park so he could have a photo-op holding a bible (upside down) in front of a church is not exactly consistent with a concern for law-and-order.
- Trump’s promotion of violence by armed right-wing, white supremacist zealots who have attacked and killed protesters shows that he is only interested in selective law-and-order.
Nevertheless, Trump’s attempt to scare the daylights out of the electorate is a serious threat to the Biden campaign. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris must continue to address it forthrightly every day. In order to neutralize Trump’s smears, they must condemn every instance of looting and violence by whoever is perpetrating this illegal behavior. They must also hammer home the fundamental truth that this is happening on Trump’s watch and that he—and he alone—owns it.
Biden/Harris must also set forth their plan to deal with violence while drawing the contrast with Trump, whose only “plan,” such as it is, is to foment as much violence, disorder and mayhem as he can, believing it to be his prescription for election victory (along, of course, with extreme voter suppression and social media trolling and election administration hacking help from his mentor, Vladimir Putin).
Every single time Trump and his minions lie about Biden’s position on any issue, Democrats need to respond immediately, loudly and unambiguously with the truth. Trump cannot be permitted to get away with electoral murder.
Finally, Biden must continue to bring the conversation back to Trump’s complete and utter inability to manage the pandemic and its devastating economic consequences. He needs to point out in detail the many points along the road to this unprecedented disaster where Trump botched this test of leadership, rendered America the worst in the world, and crashed the economy.
Democratic vigilance must also go beyond Trump’s attempts to deflect, deny, delay and divert from his colossal incompetence and be able to respond rapidly to the lies and manipulations perpetrated by Trump’s congressional and White House enablers.
Trump is running the dirtiest campaign in American history. Cleanup crews must be right behind him.
September 4, 2020